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Michael Maren, Director: A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY

March 15, 2014
Michael Maren, Director

Michael Maren, Director

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY, from concept to financing.

I’d been working as a screenwriter for about a decade (after 17 years as a journalist), and sold a lot of scripts to various studios. But, for reasons only Hollywood understands, the movies never got made. Just when you don’t think there’s another way for a film project to go up in smoke, they invent one.  After the writers’ strike in 2008 it was clear to me that the business would never really be the same and I decided to stop doing studio work and make my own film.  I set out to write a script that could be shot for less than $1 million, and I wanted to write something personal.  And I decided to direct. The script came quickly to me when I visited with my mom, who has Alzheimer’s.  I looked at her and thought, I can either wallow in this tragedy or see the humor in it.  The decision to see the humor, became the genesis of the film.

The thing that sent it on its way was when director Milos Forman read it and agreed to executive produce.  His imprimatur on the script sent it to the top of piles at various talent agencies. Legendary producer Michael Hausman came aboard and we began putting the project together.   At the same time we began auditioning actors for various roles, I was out raising money.  I’m a writer, and raising money is very far outside my comfort zone, but I forced myself to ask everyone I knew to invest in the project. Of course, most people said “no” but we (with me producing partner Alfred Sapse) pulled together the money from a number of sources.  By April of 2012 we were in pre-production in Sarasota, Florida.

2Q: A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY has played at least two festivals now.  What has been the reaction to your film? Do you ever stop being nervous at screenings?

I always sit or stand in the back by myself.  I don’t want anyone near me.  And I wait for the first few laugh lines in the film.  The humor is subtle, and when audiences get it, they get it. If I get those first few laughs, I can relax.  There are a lot of people who really really love this film, and that has been very encouraging.  I’m usually mobbed after screenings by people who are inspired by it to tell me their own stories, which is really what you want art to do — elicit that instinct in an audience.  I’m sure there are people who don’t get the movie or are indifferent to it.  I didn’t set out to make a crowd pleaser, and parts of this film are certainly challenging.   I would say that my favorite reactions are from people who’ve seen it multiple times and have told me that it gets better for them with each viewing.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY?

The worst experience was when a big chunk of our financing fell out while we were in pre-production in Florida.  We’d already opened an office and moved some people down there. Already spent some money.  I had gone to Massachusetts for a funeral and got the call from Alfred moments after we put my aunt in the ground.  We immediately pulled the plug on Florida and then Alfred and I drank a lot of Scotch.

But…. then Alfred came to me and said he thought we could make the film in Wilmington, NC for the money we had left.  We went there and were back up and running in two months. We ended up with a completely different cast, and I can’t imagine the film without the cast we have now.  The best moment was one I had about three days into shooting and I was overcome with the feeling that I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing in life.

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

A Short History of Decay is about a place in life where we will all find ourselves one day. And when we get there, we’d better have a sense of humor about it.  Yes, you’ll laugh and you’ll cry and you’ll see some great actors at the very tops of their games.

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Best Director Oscar for A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY.  Give us your acceptance speech.

I’d like to start by thanking the people who wrote the checks that launched this project.  You forked over real money to an untested director who came to you with a script and a plan. Your faith that we’d actually come out of this maelstrom with a movie in hand has been rewarded.  This Academy Award means you might even get your investment back. Maybe not.

And I’d like to thank all the people who worked their asses off and didn’t complain (too much) about the hours and the pay.  I hope this makes you feel better about all that.  Milos Forman, you are a genius.  And Mom and Dad, thanks for the raw material.

Oh… and my wife. Dani Shapiro.  I can’t forget to thank my wife. Because if I did, I would never hear the end of it.

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